We’re going beyond just the basic 100 years. Underwear is a difficult topic in fashion history- there are very few surviving examples until the 19th century and rarely are people depicted in just their base layers. But, if we follow the path that these garments went through to accommodate the outer layers it starts to fill in the gaps. In reality, the smock, shift, chemise, and slip were the most common clothing item of their era. By the time we reach the 18th c, they were being mass produced in packs of a dozen! As long as you had enough underwear to make it through until wash day, you could keep the outer garments clean, so it stands to reason it was the most prolific piece in any wardrobe.
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But before we jump into a pile of linen and cotton, we should understand what defines underwear. Today we think of a few key pieces, but those are relatively modern. So, it’s important to know why we feel one type of thing is or is not underwear and how different eras defined it. It wasn’t scandalous to be seen in petticoat and stays while working in the 18th c, for example. But, in more formal situations those items would be covered. It’s not just being under another item that defines it, but more its purpose. The base layer was there to provide a barrier between skin and clothing- both ways. While sometimes it was invisible, and other times was shown off, it was the full layer closest to the body. Over it went support, structure, shape, etc. Corsets, bustles, bums, and petticoats didn’t sit up against the skin.
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05:37 15th c
08:56 16th c & 17th c
10:42 18th c
11:34 Regency Underdrawers